DALLAS — The American Airlines Center is officially located on Victory Avenue just outside the downtown area, but if you’re the Edmonton Oilers and are looking for a win after a season-worst four-game losing skid you can also find it at the intersection of Desperation and Determination.
While Oilers coach Dave Tippett went radical and had Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all centring lines, as he said; “just to spread things around”, it was also more of the usual in their start to finish 2-1 victory.
The Oilers got a league-leading power-play goal from Draisaitl, their NHL best road penalty-kill stopped three by the Stars, McDavid had assists on both goals and goalie Mikko Koskinen, after a blemish against Carolina last week, was rock-solid, only beaten by Tyler Seguin’s bullet under the bar with 157 seconds left, running his record to 12-5-2. He made a great stop on Corey Perry with nine seconds remaining to save it.
The difference; one of those McDavid feeds came on their struggling five-on-five attack — a pass to Zack Kassian. Kassian has been the best even-strength player on the team, though, with all of his 12 goals and 23 points five-on-five. And after leading for all of 4:35 over the preceding four losses, they didn’t chase the game and after giving up 19 goals in those losses, they looked like the October Oilers. You remember them, opening with five straight wins, going 7-2-1 in the first 10, giving up just 24 goals.
“Our guys were really focused today, you could tell in the morning skate, real business-like approach … mostly the leaders in the room said we’d get the job done,” said Tippett. “Our goalie was really good but we checked well, the things we’d like our identity to be, a team effort rather than waiting for a couple of guys (Draisaitl and McDavid) to score.”
“Solid game from the first to the last minute, really a grinding game,” said Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom, who played half of it, 30:32, 10 minutes and 10 shifts in the third and also got yeoman service out of partner Adam Larsson who blocked six shots. “I’d rather win 2-1 than 5-4 and give up a lot of goals and a lot of shots … well, maybe if we had let in eight and we scored nine, I would still be happy, even if I was dash-6. All we wanted was a win to stop the bleeding.”
Got a little hairy at the end, a continuation of the third where Dallas had 18 shots and the Oilers eight.
“Yeah, little nervous, good for their fans (all the action) I guess. Thank god, we got away with it. You can almost say they deserved to score one but we kept it to one.”
Koskinen was like Gumby meets Pretzel in the final few minutes, bending, diving to make stops.
“Got a lot of pressure at the end … got my blocker on that one late. The goal was kind of a broken play, a pass through the back-door,” said Koskinen, who admitted it’s hard to protect a 2-0 lead for 46 minutes. “I thought we did a great job until they got the first one.”
And, they’re now second in the Pacific Division, tied with Arizona at 42 points but playing one more game. Vegas is third with 41 and Calgary fourth with 40 in the tightest division in the league.
Alex Chiasson made a McDavid like, no look back-pass past Dallas defender Esa Lindell right onto Draisaitl’s waiting tape to give Oilers a power-play goal in eight straight games. The last time Oilers had a PP streak that long was 1999 when Doug Weight and Ryan Smyth were leading the charge. The Draisaitl PP slapper ended the Stars’ run of 41 straight kills at home.
“I didn’t exactly know he was there but one thing about our power play since I’ve been on it the last year, it’s kind of chemistry, you understand where guys are. I never looked once but it was a feel for the play. He usually hangs around that area, perfect spot at the right time,” said Chiasson, of the set-up on the game-winner.
HOW THE WHEEL TURNS
Todd Nelson and Derek Laxdal find themselves on the same on the same Dallas coaching staff these days, but nine and-a-half years ago they both applied for the Oil Kings junior job.
Laxdal was hired by then junior GM Bob Green, but now the chief amateur scout of Oilers, and Nelson, who had been Atlanta Thrashers assistant coach, was in limbo in June, 2010. Until GM Steve Tambellini called.
“Went for an interview and got hired the next day. Best thing that ever happened to me going to Oklahoma City,” said Nelson, who then coached Oilers after Dallas Eakins was fired.
Laxdal left Oil Kings after their Memorial Cup, and coached Stars AHL farm team for six years until Dallas coach Jim Montgomery was fired a week ago.
“It was a whirlwind there for three or four days. When I got the call, it threw me off, but then you just go. Came up and went right into a pre-game skate and a game (vs New Jersey),” said Laxdal, who coached 12 of the current Stars in the minors, including John Klingberg, Esa Lindelll and Radek Faksa.
Adding Brantley would give Jays elite offence, set up more possible moves – Sportsnet.ca
On Wednesday, they engaged in serious talks with Michael Brantley, according to multiple industry sources. Earlier on Wednesday, multiple outlets including Sportsnet reported that a deal was in place with Brantley, but a Blue Jays team official later refuted the report.
If completed, a deal would give Toronto’s already-potent lineup yet another impact bat. But given how crowded the Blue Jays’ outfield mix would look with Brantley, adding him might also prompt further moves.
First, let’s turn our attention to Brantley, Springer’s former Astros teammate and fellow client of Excel Sports Management. Now 33, he remains one of MLB’s best bat-to-ball hitters, as his lifetime .297 average suggests. He combines those contact skills with an excellent plate approach that often sees him walk nearly as often as he strikes out. While he doesn’t offer Springer’s power, he hit 17 home runs in 2018 and 22 homers in 2019, making the AL all-star team both times.
Defensively, Brantley’s a corner outfielder at this stage in his career with the bulk of his career experience coming in left field. He was also Houston’s designated hitter 26 times in 2020, so manager Charlie Montoyo would likely include him in the team’s DH mix, too. With 34th percentile sprint speed, he’s doesn’t chase down fly balls with the same ease that he did when he first came up with a Cleveland team overseen by current Blue Jays executives Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins.
All told, he’s been worth 3.8 wins above replacement per 650 plate appearances, meaning he’s consistently been an all-star player when healthy. During the shortened 2020, he generated 1.7 WAR according to Baseball-Reference, and the year before that he was worth 4.8 WAR.
Where exactly the Blue Jays go from here is unclear, but it stands to reason that a deal with Brantley would be a precursor to more. As soon news of advanced talks broke Wednesday, industry speculation began about possible trades involving Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Randal Grichuk. It’s even possible the Blue Jays already have a framework in place for a possible deal involving one of those players (Gurriel Jr., who has three years and $14.7 million remaining on his contract before one final year of arbitration eligibility in 2024, has far more trade value of the two).
Regardless, the additions of Springer and Brantley would give the Blue Jays one of the best lineups in the American League. From here, the Blue Jays have further needs on the infield and on the pitching staff, but this week has already been extremely productive for a team looking to build on its first playoff appearance in four seasons.
Blue Jays agree to three-year deal with OF Brantley – TSN
The Toronto Blue Jays have not added Michael Brantley, yet.
Contrary to earlier reports, ESPN’s Jeff Passan writes there is no agreement in place as of yet between the two sides. He notes the Blue Jays are still in on Brantley, and could still reach a deal with the veteran outfielder.
After the Jays reached a six-year, $150 million agreement with Springer late Tuesday night, TSN Blue Jays Reporter Scott Mitchell tweeted there were “legit legs to the Michael Brantley package deal” and the Blue Jays are very open to it.
Mitchell noted Tuesday night that adding Brantley, a 33-year-old left fielder, would create an outfield logjam, but the Jays could use the surplus to upgrade their pitching on the trade market.
Brantley had been the mark of consistency at the plate during his lengthy big league career and that continued once he arrived with the Houston Astros after the 2018 season.
Brantley has hit .309 combined over the past two seasons, good for eighth best in baseball over that span.
Prior to his tenure in Houston, Brantley is known for the 10 seasons he spent with Cleveland, appearing in 1,051 games during that time period. He is a four-time All-Star and a one-time Silver Slugger Award winner (2014).
Brantley was originally selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh round of the 2005 MLB Draft and arrived in Cleveland in a 2008 trade deadline deal that saw left-hander C.C. Sabathia head to Milwaukee.
Edmonton Oilers coming apart at seams through first four games of season – Edmonton Sun
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There’s no word on whether one of them is Maple Leafs Zamboni driver David Ayres.
With Stuart Skinner as the current backup, having a total of zero games of NHL experience, the Oilers are going to be relying heavily on Koskinen, who looked better in the second game against Montreal, but still gave up two soft goals in the loss — one on a wrist shot from the blue line and the other from behind the goal line.
“Yeah of course this is not what we wanted and we can’t get frustrated,” said Koskinen, who has faced 145 shots and conceded 15 goals. “It’s only four games done and we have to keep the work ethic and find a way to win games. It’s going to be a long push and we need to be ready when we play against the Leafs in a few days.”
The Oilers are going to need better than a 3.80 goals-against average and .897 save percentage to get back into the hunt. They’re also going to need the power play to be much better.
A unit that scored once on every three opportunities last season, has two goals on 18 man-advantage situations this year and has already given up two shorthanded goals.
Not having James Neal on the top unit hurts, but Barrie has not made the impact expected yet and his biggest contribution to date was not inadvertently breaking up a drop pass from Draisaitl to McDavid, which led to a highlight-reel goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
“I think we have to shoot the puck more,” Tippett said. “We had some chances but you’ve got to bury some of those chances. Montreal’s doing a good job around the front of your net and you’ve got to pay the price to score. And we didn’t bury the chances and we didn’t shoot the puck enough.
“You look at the two games, I think we had 10 power plays and we came out minus-2 on power plays. That’s an area that should be one of our strengths but it wasn’t the last two games.”
The Oilers can’t rely on McDavid and Draisaitl scoring four points per game to win. The supporting cast put together by Holland on a shoestring budget, after paying the top three forwards $27-million combined, has to start punching above its weight.
If they can’t, then those four playoff spots in the North Division could pull away in a hurry.
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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